Romer Wasn't Pushed and Didn't Jump

It wasn't supposed to drop this way. A few weeks ago, Christina Romer notified her colleagues that she intended to resign her post as chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. She felt she had served the president the best she could, was frustrated by the sluggish economy, and missed home.

Quietly, the White House concocted a plan to announce her departure. News would break next week, during the dog days of August, after Congress had left for the recess and a few days after the latest monthly jobs report came out.

But last night, with word having gotten around the rather large community of academic economists with policy jobs, National Journal's Kirk Victor broke the news on Hotline On Call.

"She has been frustrated," a source with insight into the WH economics team said. "She doesn't feel that she has a direct line to the president. She would be giving different advice than Larry Summers [director of the National Economic Council], who does have a direct line to the president."

The White House was not happy with this characterization.  To the wire services, the White House gave "background" quotations noting that Romer had met with the president almost every day during his daily economic briefing.

Aides then had Romer correspond directly with influential economic writers who were chasing Victor's scoop. Two points she made: yes, of course she's frustrated at the pace of the economy--and who isn't? Also: far from being her antagonist, Larry Summers has become one of her "dearest friends."

The two had differences of opinion on several issues but they're generally on the same page as regards the wisdom of the stimulus package, the advisability of more targeted spending to boost demand, and the need to keep state governments from becoming insolvent.

Check the comment section on Hotline On Call, and you'll get a sense of how challenging it is for the White House to contain a story once it breaks. Larry Summers is the bad guy; HE should have been forced out; HE hates women; he's muscling women who have good advice out of the way; why is the president so reliant on him and Tim Geithner, anyway?

A sample:

Summers was the worst pick ever, along with that weasel Geithner and Rahm "Karl Rove" Emanuel. At least Romer was a progressive voice to counter the the Harvard/Chicago axis that represents Goldman Sachs, Wall St and the kind of unfettered, unregulated, "free"-market larceny that has been eroding this country's economic vitality for 30 years, while making the rich much richer still. Summers and company are the same ding-dongs and charlatans posing as economic gurus who have enabled the on-going plunder of America

The person writing this could be a world-renown policy expert or someone with great insight into the motivations of the White House economic team. Or, he or she could be a crank. One would not know from reading the commentators' post that Summers is among the most forceful advocates for more spending...that Summers and Romer were among those who pushed the Senate and the House to consider a state bailout bill that, two weeks ago, had no chance at passing.

Other commentators pivot to the frustrations of the middle class -- the sense that the economy is not recovering, that no matter the reasons behind the Wall Street bailout, the bad guys got rewarded for bad behavior and regular folks got shafted.

In Washington, no one simply decides to leave a job. One is either "pushed" out, or one forcibly extracts oneself because of significant policy or personal differences. Anything in between these two poles is not conducive to how politics is done, so no one tends to believe it.  Romer says she wants to return to Berkeley before the new school term begins. The average tenure for someone in her post is just about the time she's spent in it.  Perhaps one should take her at her word.